Alone on the Wall

Just picked up an interesting book called “Alone on the Wall” by Alex Honnold and David Roberts. Now, I am not a rock climber but I have been interested in seeing what makes Alex Honnold tick. For those of you who are not familiar, Alex is what the climbing world calls a free solo climber. That being he climbs without the use of harnesses or ropes. He basically climbs rock walls with a chalk bag for his hands and his climbing shoes. That is it. Three weeks ago, he free soloed El Capitan in Yosemite which is one of his many “firsts”. That is 3,000 vertical feet of granite folks. If you have been to Yosemite, and look up the wall of El Cap, you can appreciate what a daunting task it would be to climb that let alone with no protection. You slip, you die.

Now I know that Alex has been interviewed many times and has achieved notoriety at 32 years of age. I have also seen interviews of his friends who say he has he ability to shut off fear. He studies the rock problems meticulously before he attempts to do anything and is fully aware of the risks versus the consequences of a fall. But one still has to wonder, why? Anything can happen and no matter how skilled you are, a slight slip of a hand hold can mean certain death.

Any of us who are involved in riskier sports can appreciate the risk versus consequence discussion. I don’t participate in anything close to what Alex does, but even in my skiing and mountain biking endeavors, these factors continually weigh into my decisions. As I get older, the consequences become more visible in that recovery is harder when you have an injury. I ride a mountain bike for exercise and not to prove anything. I am very conservative and although I am more confident because of experience, I don’t take any extra chances that would allow me to spend time in the hospital. I always say I ride to ride another day. Funny story is my doctor, Sy Hyder, is one of my mountain bike cronies. I asked him the other day why he didn’t adjust my coumadin dosage when my INR was a little low. He said,” Paddy- I knew we were riding Frick Park and I didn’t want you to bleed much.” Great when your PC has that kind of insight into his patients. He claims I am his only patient on coumadin who skis and mountain bikes. But he knows how I do it. No blunt force trauma hopefully.

The same mindset has become reality for me in skiing. Although I have much more experience in skiing than I have in mountain biking, I still have seen a more conservative approach as I age. Yes, I still try to ski the steeps and probably ski faster than I should, but as I age, sometimes I look a little longer down that chute to see where my first turn will be or if I want to do it at all. Rock walls are unforgiving and anything can happen on a pair of skis, even when you are in the zone and making great turns. Bravado can lead to consequences if you are not careful. But I only take chances if I know I can probably pull off the end result.

As I have posted before,I don’t like heights. Kind of strange for a skier but that is just the way it is. Reading “Alone on the Wall” and looking at Alex above in Yosemite gives me sweaty palms as I type. My fingers are sticking to the keys just thinking about what this guy does. They say youth is wasted on the young and maybe Alex can summon up courage and shut the fear factor off better than most his age or younger. But to me, he takes amazing risks even though he is well prepared in his mind.

I read fast so this should be a quick book to finish. But be assured that he makes me think. I admire his feats on the walls of the world but wonder if he can quit before it is too late? Maybe age and responsibility will bring him back to using harnesses and ropes? Even the great climbers of the world agree – begrudgingly. They love the thrill. But the consequences are real. Thanks for reading.

Adventure Fest 2017

The outdoor camping weekend was touted as ” the greatest salty meat, campfire cooking, big fartin, Jesus praising weekend ever.” I accepted the invitation of my good friend Mark ” the Shark” Sauers to attend this event and Greg Nass, the organizer, is an old friend from my mountain biking days with the Dirt Rag Magazine crew.

Now I have been to a lot of church outings in my life but this one was intriguing because of the camping aspect( I love sleeping under the stars in my dome tent), and also the chance to ride mountain bikes at the nationally famous Allegrippis Trails at Raystown Lake, Pa. But little did I know the impact of this weekend on me courtesy of a bunch of axe throwing, Harley riding, arrow shooting, hiking, biking, sinners from all over the tri-state area. Pulling in Friday night, the Shark and I set up our campsite on a wooded part of the 350 acre Agape Farm and Retreat Center. Once I had my Jet Boil fired up and cooking some freeze dried cuisine courtesy of the REI camping department on the South Side of Pittsburgh, we made our way down to perhaps the largest bonfire that I had ever seen in my life. Testosterone was high as the men sat in their camp chairs taking in the fire and listening to the opening remarks from Greg Nass.

After the intros were given, we were asked to welcome the first speaker of the weekend, Pastor Jerry Conley, who came roaring into the site in his Harley, floppy hat, goggles, and pipes blazing. His group the Midnight Riders accompanied him and as he began to tell his story, the group was gripped with his testimony relating to his life before he came to be a believer in the redemptive story of Jesus. One of the misconceptions of Christians these days is that they are condescending and look down on people thinking they are better than the next guy, preachy, pointing fingers. But nothing could be further from the truth with these guys who all recognize their faults and the need to have a Savior in their lives. The Christian message is really a wonderfully freeing message and this seemed to be the theme of the weekend. Pastor Tom Rees spoke on relationships and also gave a great visual of sharing the Gospel in the proper manner. I asked the Shark how he spreads the good news of the Gospel without offending anyone. He said he treats it like he is sharing the good news of a good restaurant in a town where a friend will be visiting. They don’t have to eat there and he doesn’t brow beat them into eating there. He just shares with them the message because he cares for them. He said, “Paddy- don’t I care for you? Wouldn’t I want to share news of a great pair of skis with you?” I sat in amazement at the commitment and the caring spirit of the Shark which only got better as we made our way to Raystown Lake the next morning to ride the trails of Allegrippis.

We ended up riding with a good rider from West Virginia named Roger, and a pastor from Leechburg, Todd, and his friend Bill. Turns out Todd roasts his own coffee and is a good road and mountain bike rider and his friend Bill had a lot of experience riding as well. We were treated to dry, flowy trails with lots of interesting transitions and scenic views of Raystown Lake. Halfway through the ride, The Shark pulls over and shares his testimony of his mission trip in the Amazon jungle. Todd, Bill, Roger and I sat in silence as we listened to the stories of anacondas, aggressive native tribes and the danger of sharing the Gospel. Looking to each side of us I noticed a guy that had stopped with his four kids and two other random guys listening to Shark’s story. We all remarked that those kids were wide eyed and you never know unless you put it out there, what impact you might have by sharing the message of Christian salvation. Believe in what He did for you. John 3:16. Again, I sat in silence and watched the Shark in action. An amazing person not afraid or embarrassed in the least. Good News shared. We treated ourselves to a great lunch at Smitty’s Eats and Treats. Perhaps the best pork bar-b-que sandwich I had ever eaten made with fresh pork from a local farm. The young lady working the counter was delightful and if you ride Raystown, stop in and see Smitty. Good guy with great food.

Saturday night, there was a midnight hike to a large wooden cross at the top of the mountain. As the inner city guys from Front Street Community Church and the Philadelphia Bible Fellowship hiked up that trail, lots of them had joyous hearts knowing that they had been saved from the brink of disaster. I realized that I lead a sheltered life when I heard the stories of drugs, violence, guns, and alcoholism. I saw tough looking inner city guys kneeling at that cross crying out of thankfulness and when the Pastor conducting the service asked all of us to pound a nail into that cross symbolizing that we are leaving all of our guilt and shame up on that cross on that mountain, the vision of those city tough guys was nothing short of amazing. Tattoos and tears!!!

Wrapping up Sunday with a great message by Pastor Robert Bennett of Jakes Run Assembly of God in West Virginia, I learned something that I had not known. When Joshua defeated the enemy at the Walls of Jericho, he screamed at the end of the battle……Tetelestai!!!!- it is finished. The same words uttered by Christ when He finished his mission on the cross. Tetelestai!!!!! It is Finished. You don’t do anything……He did it. All you do is believe. ¬†Again- I sat in silence contemplating what I had seen that weekend.

I would recommend Adventure Fest to anyone who wants to hear the Good News in an incredibly beautiful setting. For more information, check out http://www.adventuremen.org These mountain biking, air gun shooting, Harley riding, RV driving, archery and camping guys are sure fun to hang with. Thanks for reading and thanks to the Shark for many things.

Grillin’

I’ve been warped by the rain
driven by the snow
I’m hot and dirty don’t you know
and I’m still…………….grillin’

My dad taught me the finer points of grilling when I was a young lad. He was a charcoal guy and showed me the lighter fluid/charcoal method and I had my initial ash tray face before I was 13.

Singed eyebrows and burnt hair smell were common in those days as I learned the basics of lighting a fire for the grill. Fast forward to later years when I inherited a grill from a friend. The electric igniter didn’t work and I turned the propane on and stuck a BIC lighting stick in the grill and PRESTO!!! Another blast to the face with a hairless expression.

,’So, Honey, I was thinking, instead of barbecued steaks why don’t we just order in a pizza?’

But I have come a long way since then and now I have a wonderful grill and a nice setting in which to contemplate life and burn some bovine flesh.

So you might ask, ” Well Pat- what have you learned over the years as you have transitioned to a Weber with continuous natural gas feed?” Well may I offer up the following?:

Meat- always cook on medium heat. Pittsburgh rare, which is basically like the charred exterior of a catcher’s mitt, coupled with bloody red and still “mooing” interior, is not optimal. Cooking low and slow is the way to go. It also gives you a chance to catch up on your Facebook and email and enjoy the obligatory grill side beer- like in my Adirondack chair. You can sear steaks, burgers on a higher setting initially to seal the juices in and get the grill marks, but you better put it quickly to medium or you will have a 3 alarm fire in your grill and won’t be able to tell the difference between the burger and the coals. They tell you to use a meat thermometer but I always gently cut into the middle of a test burger or steak and see how it looks. I try not to lose the juices with this inspection but it is the tried and true method.

Fish and shellfish- if the cut of fresh fish has skin, put it skin down right on the grill. Again, low and slow on low to medium heat. Don’t flip it and test as per the meat method. When it is finished, you can slide the filet right off the skin which is left on the grates. That way you don’t have to deal with the skin while eating. Clean the dead skin off the grill later so the varmints don’t get it.

Olive oil and dill is a great preparation for any filet of fish. For anything that does not have skin or shellfish, a piece of foil over the grill with a good marinade will work. Believe it or not, a real nice fresh filet of bluefish or other oily fish can be marinated in gin and cooked on the grill. Amazing how that tempers the strong flavor of oily fish and actually makes it more moist and flavorful. I learned that trick from a crazy man up in Martha’s Vineyard years ago. He was the same guy that almost ran us into a buoy while touting his navigational skills.

Always pay attention. You can get engrossed in a conversation, or Facebook, or email, and the next thing you know the flames are shooting out of the side of the grill and your potential meal has been temperature compromised. Like that proverbial catcher’s mitt. Always check by lifting the lid and testing with your knife. Sipping a cold IPA will always go well and even in the winter, a wool hat, a puffy, quilted jacket, and boots are key elements to year round grilling even in the worst weather. A head lamp in the winter is also key to see exactly what you are doing even when the time change has left your grilling area dark and cold.

Probably the most challenging thing about grilling is the fickle nature of your family or guests and how they like their meal prepared on the grill. ” I like mine pink, but not red. A little pink, you know, not bloody, but not too well done. Can you do it a little pink? I don’t like it rare, but I don’t want it done too well.” What the hell????? Some pieces have to be moved to the upper grill so as not to get too well done while you are waiting for the others to finish cooking. The juggling around the grill is a true art which is learned by trial and error and lots of previous criticism from family and friends.

Chicken- always pounded flat. Or as they say here, pahhhhhhnded flat. Marinated overnight in Good Seasons Italian dressing is preferred.

Pork- forget it. Too dry no matter what you do. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Cook pork inside in a roaster.

Buns- must always be toasted on the grill with the exception of really fresh ones. Inside of the bun down on the grill and not too long. Just enough to get the grill marks. Otherwise, you can remove them and throw them at the neighbor’s dog.

If all else fails, have the local pizza shop number handy. Grilling is an art that is acquired with a lot of trial and error.

Well I’ve been kicked by the wind,
robbed by the sleet
Had my head stoved in
But I’m still on my feet
And I’m still…………grillin’

Thanks for reading and don’t burn yourself.

Lyric butchering courtesy/apologies to Little Feat, Apple Music, and Emmy Lou.

Whether to weather the weather?

I have always been fascinated with weather. I can remember times watching a lightning storm dance over the ocean, or ripple a cornfield with fingers of electricity that lit up the darkened sky against a mountainous backdrop. Nature’s fury can be dangerous with tornadoes, and hurricanes. In our neck of the woods, there is a tornado alley this time of year just north of where I live and I have seen the destruction that occurs when a tornado or a micro-burst ravages trees and buildings. My wife and I are glued to the TV when a hurricane story begins on the Weather Channel.

Speaking of the Weather Channel, I always envied Jim Cantore’s job.

Jim Cantore

I always wanted to be the reporter hanging on for dear life in my Weather Channel Gore Tex outfit. I saw myself clinging to a light pole in a hurricane, 100+ MPH winds, garbage cans flying by my head, debris everywhere bringing the storm into the comfortable living rooms all across America. Pat McCloskey reporting live from Tampa, Florida, Niles, Ohio, or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s crazy but I would love that job. Always wanted to be a storm chaser too. Looking for the tornado waiting to be born.

In addition to being fascinated by weather events, I love to be out in it. I have my Gore Tex outfits and am completely waterproof when I ski in torrential rainfall. The snow is soft and great even though the water is cascading down my goggles like a Yosemite waterfall. This spring has been particularly wet here in the east and if you don’t get out to enjoy your outdoor activities because of weather, you don’t get out much. I have ridden my mountain bike more days this spring in foul weather than I can remember, but as my friend Mark ” the Shark” Sauers says,” There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”

The funny thing about being out in the foul weather is that once you make the effort, you are glad you did even though most people would think you have lost your mind. I can remember having my best results back in my weekend warrior days when the skies would open up on an mountain bike race course or during a road race. Most people either quit or didn’t bother to start. The ones who persevered sometimes didn’t have the attitude to continue like the guy changing his shirt here at the NORBAs at Seven Springs. He had enough when the skies opened up for a third time – concurrent with each lap. Mac Martin, a legend in cycling, taught me to persevere in bad conditions. He always said that if you think you are suffering, the other guy is suffering worse. Just continue on. I can remember going over the handle bars in Month of Mud races where it snowed 6 inches during the race. But grinding it out despite the crashes, paid off in the end. A little suffering for the weekend warrior taught me lessons in competition. You have to outlast the bastards.

Those days are gone now but I still make it a point to get out no matter what the weather is doing. I have skied in raging snowstorms and seen some amazing snow events. I have ridden on the road and trails in torrential rain and snow and coming back half frozen or soaked to the bone, I still have a smile on my face. Sure the sunshine is great, but look what you miss if you let weather ruin your fun. If you have the mindset that you go out no matter what, you will be happy you did instead of sitting on the couch. Get the gear- it is worth it no matter what you pay. If you suit up correctly, you can enjoy nature at it’s grumpiest. Experience the muffled silence of a snowstorm in the woods. Enjoy the smells of the green forests during a rain storm. The fragrance of the blossoms blooming in the humid air of the woods is better than any department store perfume counter. The soft tapping of rain on the leaves of the canopy is relaxing and even though things can get a bit sloppy, the experience of that soft rain is rewarding. Be like the Shark, no matter what, get out. No such thing as bad weather. Thanks for reading.

Remember

One of my most memorable family trips was when we ventured on a bus tour to Washington, DC. Rob and Denise Dunbar, our friends, organized the trip and one of the highlights was a tour of the White House. Rob’s grandfather was a U.S Congressman and Rob and Denise knew the ropes to getting our security clearance and a tour of a truly magnificent historical residence.

Everyone needs to do this trip several times because there are so many historically significant monuments to see as well as the varied museums and galleries. Our nation’s capitol is remarkable any time of the year and I can’t wait to go back someday. But the memory that sticks out to me, even to this day, was when we were immersed in the solemnity at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The silence of the crowd was definitely noticeable as we watched the guard meticulously march in front of the tomb in the prescribed cadence and number of steps. This ceremony goes on at all times in all weather – night and day. It is a true honor to be chosen as one of the guards in this prestigious ceremony and we were all placed in a somber, reverent mood when we made our way through Arlington National Cemetery. Standing in that silent, and tranquil setting, my eyes gazed upon the rows and rows of the graves of the fallen soldiers who had been buried there. As far as the eye could see, the perfectly aligned sites,adorned with the white monuments bearing the statistics of the fallen, made me stop rigid in my tracks- taking in the enormity of the moment. I am a history buff, as you know from former posts, and I took some time to reflect on all of the wars, the sacrifices, the honored dead that were privileged enough to be laid to rest there. You could not help but think about the service that our men and women in uniform afford us, protecting our freedom every day, in the most demanding of situations world wide. I thought about my Uncle Jack, a B-24 Bomber Pilot in World War II, who flew 52 missions over Italy in the Anzio Campaign. Coming back each night with hundreds of flak holes in his fuselage, only to be repaired and sent out the next day on yet another perilous mission.

I always admire anyone who has served in the military. Their courage, dedication, and sacrifice, is most exemplary. As the song goes, ” Some gave all, all gave some.” On the bus ride back , I sat in silence as my family slept and thought about how close I was to serving. I had a #11 draft number in college and had the Vietnam war continued on one more year, I would have been plucked from my comfortable early post office lounge in my dorm room and splatted down in some rice paddy in South Vietnam battling the North Vietnamese. I am friends with many who went and served and I respect them so wholeheartedly. What a rugged and unforgiving experience they had. Some made it back and some did not. I pray for their families and for all the families of the service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. They should never be forgotten and if you ever stand in the center of Arlington, the moment and experience will be forever etched in your memory.

So, as we embark on the holiday weekend, with our picnics, our mountain bike rides, hikes, horseback rides or rounds of golf, let’s all take a moment and remember those silent warriors who are buried in Arlington and in other sites around the world. Memorial Day is the official start to summer for sure, but it should never be lost on any of us, what the true meaning of that day is to our country. God bless and protect our service men and women and thanks for reading.

Virtual Reality. Really?

One of the more enjoyable evenings that I ever had was when I was in Yosemite a few years back and went to the evening star gazing event. As I reclined on the huge tarp that was laid on the ground, I looked up and saw the most amazing celestial show that I had ever witnessed. It was so dark, which allowed the visual of millions of stars and planets accompanied by shooting stars that rocketed across the sky every couple of seconds. The ooohs and the ahhhs eclipsed the park ranger narrative. But he was used to it as he remarked that the spectacular night sky was way more interesting than him.

Along with a suggestion by my star gazing friend, Viola Christy, I purchased an entry level telescope and began searching the heavens back home for planets and stars. I can remember texting my son to come and look because I had Saturn in the the view finder as well as a full moon another night, and his response was,” Dad- I can see it 50 times better on the Internet.” But I replied, ” Yes Jack- but this is real. It is small and barely detectable, but it is the real thing and not a picture.” It was kind of lost on him.

I must say that with the younger generation, there is an attraction to virtual reality and many millenials today would rather play a video game like Madden, than actually participate in the ¬†sport itself. My son calls it “E-Sports” and no doubt it is gaining huge notoriety and millions and millions of dollars as a business. But is it really a sport? We have this debate all the time and my point is that it is important to get out and do something physical rather than spending all your spare time in a virtual physical activity world. At the risk of sounding like the old guy in his bathrobe yelling at kids to get off his lawn, ( as my friend Jeff Mihalsky laughingly says), it is a generational thing I guess. But at least my son plays sports and is active, even though the virtual world is still in his wheelhouse in his college years.

Personally, I think that there is a time and place for everything and relaxing with a video game is ok as long as it does not take over your life. I think it is really important for parents to expose their kids to all kinds of activities, whether they be hobbies, or individual or team sports. The outdoors are a wonderful education. Whether it is hiking, riding a bike, skiing, skating, the fresh air is great and the outdoor vision of the change of the seasons and activities has always attracted me. I never played Pac Man – I just did things outdoors. But that is me. But I do regret hearing that local grade schools sometimes cannot field a football team because no one tried out. Maybe the concussion concern is more apparent today, but more likely it is that the kids would rather play a video game than practice and play ball. Just a different attraction, I suppose.

For me, there is nothing like that night in Yosemite. I also like the occasional camping trip where I can smell the night air from my dome tent. Deep powder skiing days with brilliant sunshine. Mountain vistas. Riding an epic trail with friends. The camaraderie is real and you can actually enjoy it with others who value the outdoors like you do.

It is interesting to hear that video gaming is social. People actually make friends on X-Box Live even though they have never physically met them. But for me, the value of friends is to interact with them and see their emotions, their joy, their disappointments, their efforts in climbing a hill, making a three point shot, hitting a great fairway wood, skiing a great line and witnessing the event live.

Nothing wrong with gaming mind you, but for me, virtual reality is not really…..real. The real thing is that moon in the view finder, that wicked crash that I had last night on the mountain bike, the executed carved ski turn,that beautiful model airplane and how it flies, the chess match, breathing the salt air at the beach. Life is to be lived. Not virtually lived. Just my two cents. Thanks for reading.

My Unflappable Mom

The scene is 1962- Valley Brook Swimming Club, and I am standing on the deck of the pool, waiting to take my deep water test. I am shivering from the cold, but mostly due to the daunting task of seeing whether I can muster up the courage to jump off the low board and swim to the side of the pool. My mom sees my hesitation and looks at the pool manager, Don Geyer, and tells him to get me up on the board and throw me in. He convinces me, he follows me to the end of the board with no turning back, and pushes me in. I swim to the side and look at my mom and scream, ” I did it!!!” The other ladies sitting around my mom on “hysterectomy row” are aghast and say, “Carol- how can you do that to that little boy?” My mom looks at Don again and says,” take him to the high board.” Same scenario. I dutifully march in front of Coach Geyer and again he pushes me off the high board. I swim to the side with an even bigger smile and my mom says to me, ” Remember- you can do anything you want to do, Patrick.” She then looks up and down hysterectomy row and says to the ladies, ” Girls- that water will get deeper and deeper every year.”

My mom was not much of an athlete but made sure my sister and I learned to swim, ski, play tennis, golf and a myriad of other activities including playing the piano. I loved playing for her. She had perfect pitch and a wonderful voice. My mom actually skied 3 feet in her life. She strapped them on and slid three feet, fell and hit her head and said to her friend to ” take the damn things off.” But she made damn sure we learned to ski and I am forever grateful. She was a wonderful entertainer, and friend to many people who needed a friend. She was tough, but kind and generous. Her famous line was ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” She took that literally and befriended many and took care of those who needed a lift with a kind word, a nice dinner at my folk’s house, or a night on the town.

Fast forward – my mom continued with her life learning experiences for me. While swimming at the Allegheny YMCA, I witnessed a knife fight in the lobby and the police running up the stairs chasing the assailant. Wide eyed, I came home and told my mom who was raised on the Northside of Pittsburgh. Her comment was, ” Not everyone lives in the North Hills, Patrick. You need to see the other side of the tracks.” Similarly, when she dutifully made me lunches and dinners to take to my college summer jobs at St. Joe Paper Company in McKees Rocks, working all three labor shifts, I told her daily tales of the crazies who worked in the box factory. She said I would learn more there than any college class.I would learn about real life. A great experience, she said, for me and my future, whatever it would be.

Things changed over the years and after my dad passed, my mom was lost. They had a great marriage and now she was alone. They had their ups and downs financially but my mother was steady in her relationship with my father until the day he died. She continued her great friendships. She was kind, considerate, and gracious in the good times and in the not so good times. She showed me great grace under pressure.

The day I called her on the phone, and there was no answer, I knew this might be the day. When I found that she had passed away in her apartment, the tears poured from my eyes like a wellspring of emotion letting loose with cherished memories, and love for my mom. A peace came over me when I realized that she was finally with my dad again, in heaven, after 4 long years without him. My mom was a character and I miss her every day.

If you still have your mom, cherish her, honor her, love her like she loved you all of her life. If your mom is gone, remember the good times and the funny times, and the times that she encouraged you to do the impossible. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you out there who are fortunate enough to be moms. You are a wonderful example to all of us. Thanks for reading.